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Martha Ann JOHNSON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1 - 4
Date of murders: 1977 - 1982
Date of arrest: July 3, 1989
Date of birth: 1955
Victims profile: Her children, James William Taylor, 23-month-old / Tabitha Jenelle Bowen, 3-month-old / Earl Wayne Bowen, 31-month-old / Jenny Ann Wright, 11
Method of murder: Smothering
Location: Clayton County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on May 5, 1990
 
 

 
 

Martha Ann Johnson (also known as Martha Ann Bowen) (born 1955) is an American serial killer from Georgia convicted of smothering to death three of her children between 1977 and 1982.

Murders

Johnson was in her third marriage by the age of 22. Her first marriage produced a girl, born in 1971. Her second marriage produced a son in 1975 and her third marriage, to Earl Bowen, produced a son and daughter, born 1979 and 1980, respectively.

On September 23, 1977, Johnson claimed 23-month-old James William Taylor was unresponsive when she attempted to wake him up from his nap. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was determined to be sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

On November 30, 1980, Johnson claimed her three-month-old daughter Tabitha Jenelle Bowen was blue when she went to wake her up from a nap. Paramedics were unable to revive Tabitha, and her death was also attributed to SIDS.

In January 1981, 31-month-old Earl Wayne Bowen was found with a package of rat poison. He was treated and release from the hospital, after which his parents claimed he began to have seizures. On February 12, 1981, Earl went into cardiac arrest while being taken to the hospital during a seizure. He was revived and placed on life support; however, doctors pronounced him brain dead, and he was removed from life support three days later.

Johnson claimed her 11-year-old daughter Jenny Ann Wright was complaining of chest pains, for which a doctor prescribed Tylenol and a rib belt. On February 21, 1982, paramedics found Jenny Ann face down on Johnson's bed with foam coming out of her mouth, but were unable to resuscitate her. An autopsy indicated that Jenny Ann had died of asphyxia.

Johnson and Bowen separated permanently, and Johnson remarried.

Arrest, confession and conviction

In December 1989, an article in The Atlanta Constitution questioned the deaths, and the cases were reopened. Investigators determined that each child's death was preceded seven to 10 days by marital problems between Johnson and Bowen.

On July 3, 1989, Johnson was arrested, and she confessed to killing two of her children. After confrontations with Bowen, Johnson would suffocate the children by rolling her 250-pound body on them as they slept. She claimed the motive was to punish her husband. Johnson claimed she was not responsible for the deaths of her two youngest children.

By the beginning of her trial in April 1990, Johnson had retracted her confession. On May 5, 1990, she was convicted of first-degree murder for the smothering deaths of three of her four children and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life on appeal. She is currently housed at Pulaski State Prison.

Wikipedia.org


Victims of Martha Ann Johnson

Martha Ann Johnson was found guilty of murdering three of her children and is suspected of murdering another one of her children. We currently have information on all of her victims.

James William Taylor

James, 23 months old, was murdered on September 23, 1977. The cause of death was ruled as sudden infant death syndrome.

Tabitha Jenelle Bowen

Tabitha, 3 months old, was murdered on November 30, 1980. Her death was ruled as sudden infant death syndrome.

Earl Wayne Bowen

Earl, 31 months old, was murdered on February 15, 1981. He had been found with a package of rat poison and suffered seizures after returning home from the hospital. He went into cardiac arrest, was declared brain dead and was removed from life support. Johnson is suspected of being involved in this murder.

Jenny Ann Wright

Jenny, age 11, was murdered on February 21, 1982. She has died of asphyxia.

Serialkillers.briancombs.net


Martha Ann Johnson

Monday-morning quarterbacks in Georgia had a field day with the case of Martha Johnson, trying to explain how the murders of four children fell through the cracks of the criminal justice system.

Homicide investigators blamed their failure on the suspects change of address, noting ruefully that different jurisdictions often fail to keep in touch. Physicians dropped the ball repeatedly, misdiagnosing the cause of death in Marthas first three murders. On the fourth, detectives and a medical examiner suggested prosecution, but the Clayton County D.A. never followed through. Even Marthas husband, after noting a distinctive pattern in the deaths, could not persuade authorities to act. However the responsibility is portioned out, the bungling cost four lives.

A Georgia native, born in 1955, Martha Johnson was working on her third marriage at age twenty-two. The first had produced a daughter, Jennyann Wright, born in 1971. James William Taylor, the product of Marthas second marriage, followed in 1975. Husband number three, Earl Bowen, got along well with Marthas children and fathered two of his own--Earl Wayne in 1979 and Tibitha Janel in 1980--but he did not get along so well with Martha.

In fact, the couple argued bitterly, and Early repeatedly walked out to let his temper cool. They always patched things up, or so it seemed, but Martha had begun to feel the strain. Perhaps she saw the children as a stumbling block to happiness, or simply pawns to be manipulated in a deadly private game. In either case, the end result was lethal.

Two-year-old James Taylor was the first to go, already dead when Martha brought him to the Clayton County hospital on September 25, 1977. He had failed to wake up that morning, she said, and doctors were unable to revive him. Despite his relatively advanced age, they blamed the boys death on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and closed the file. Earl Bowen shared his wifes apparent grief and came back home.

In 1980, the couple separated again, and Martha made another emergency trip to the hospital. This time, the victim was three-month-old Tibitha, and the diagnosed cause of death was identical. Earl Bowen was openly suspicious, and experts consider two SIDS deaths in the same family improbable, but Clayton County physicians and detectives accepted Marthas plea of bad luck.

Yet another quarrel and separation preceded the death of two-year-old Earl Wayne Bowen, on February 15, 1981. This time, physicians gave SIDS a break and blamed the childs death on seizure disorder of unknown etiology. Following Earls funeral, 10-year-old Jennyann told her father and a Fulton County social worker that she was afraid to stay home with her mother.

Welfare workers interviewed the family but found no legal grounds for removing Jennyann to a foster home. Detectives and the county medical examiner agreed there was no evidence of homicide to build a case in court. A year and six days after little Earls death, Martha summoned police to her new home in Jonesboro, declaring that her daughter had stopped breathing.

Patrolmen found the child lying face-down on her bed, beyond help by the time paramedics arrived. An autopsy blamed her death on probable asphyxia, and the medical examiner called it suspicious, noting that this 11-year-old Caucasian female is the fourth child to die following domestic arguments between the parents. Even so, the coroner declined to hold an inquest, and the district attorneys office ignored a recommendation that Martha be prosecuted.

It was finally too much for Bowen, and the couple split for good. Martha was remarried to Charles Johnson, living in Locust Grove, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution launched a new investigation of her case in December 1988.

A month later, Dr. William Anderson declared that his 1977 diagnosis of SIDS for James Taylor was probably wrong. With twenty-twenty hindsight, the doctor told newsmen, I wouldnt hesitate to say theres a 90% chance that this is homicide.

This time, police were listening. Martha was arrested on July 3, 1989, held without bail on a charge of murdering Jennyann. In a videotaped confession, made the same day, she admitted smothering Jennyann and James Taylor by rolling her 250-pound bulk on top of the children as they slept. In each case, Martha said, her motive was to bring Earl Bowen home. The deaths of Tibitha and little Earl, she told police, were not her fault. Clayton County prosecutors disagreed, charging Johnson with two more counts of murder in the week following her arrest. (No charge has been filed to date in the death of James Taylor, in Fulton County.)

Martha changed her mind and recanted the confession before her murder trial began, on April 30, 1990, but the tape was still admitted into evidence. Charles Johnson did his best for the defense, tearfully describing Martha as a good wife and mother who could never do anything like theyre saying. Jurors disagreed, convicting her of first-degree murder on May 5, and she was sentenced to death. Georgias Supreme Court rejected Marthas appeal in March 1991.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


SEX: F RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific

MO: Smothered her own children; deaths mistaken for SIDS.

DISPOSITION: Condemned, 1990 (commuted on appeal).


Supreme Court of Georgia

261 Ga. 419, 405 S.E.2.d 686

JOHNSON v. THE STATE

Cowen & Cowen, Martin L. Cowen III, for appellant.

The appellant, Martha Ann Johnson, was convicted for the murder of her daughter and sentenced to life in prison. [1] We affirm.

In 1982 the Clayton County Police Department responded to a call regarding the death of a child, Jenny Ann Wright, Mrs. Johnson's 11-year-old daughter. The state crime lab performed an autopsy and determined that asphyxiation was the cause of death.

Mrs. Johnson was informed that she was a suspect in the death of her daughter Jenny and the deaths of her three other children; however, no action was taken against Mrs. Johnson until the case was reopened in 1988. [2] During an audio- and videotaped interview between Mrs. Johnson and an officer on July 3, 1989, at the Clayton County Police Department, Mrs. Johnson admitted killing her daughter and also admitted killing her son J. W. Taylor. She denied causing the deaths of her two other children, Wayne Bowen and Tabitha Bowen.

1. The evidence is sufficient such that a rational trier of fact could have found the appellant guilty as charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U. S. 307 (99 SC 2781, 61 LE2d 560) (1979).

2. The appellant argues that the trial court erred in admitting her confession into evidence over her objection. OCGA 24-3-50 provides: "To make a confession admissible, it must have been made voluntarily, without being induced by another by the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury." We conclude that the trial court's decision to allow the appellant's confession into evidence was not error. Spence v. State, 106 Ga. App. 340 (127 SE2d 33), rev'd on other grounds, 218 Ga. 525 (128 SE2d 926) (1962). When asked about the probabilities that a child, such as one of the deceased children of the appellant, would die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the witness stated that "about 5% of these cases, and this is a very conservative estimate, might be due to causes similar to SIDS." There was no factual basis given for this calculation, nor was there any foundation laid as to the witness' knowledge of the symptoms or causes of SIDS. The witness' sole support for his calculations was that he had "long conversations with several subject experts at [the Centers for Disease Control] who are pediatricians and I have talked to them about this case to make sure that my calculations are not off base." The witness was not a doctor, but a biostatistician qualified only to testify as to the method of calculation of the probabilities of independent events. Similarly, the pediatricians were not shown to be statisticians capable of commenting intelligently as to the accuracy of the witness' analysis.

We disapprove of the admission of such testimony, however, in light of the appellant's confession, the admission of the statistician's testimony was harmless error.

4. The appellant also asserts that the trial court erred in failing to give a jury charge on good character. The testimony presented by the appellant's husband was not sufficient to raise good character as a defense. In Jones v. State, 257 Ga. 753, 757 (363 SE2d 529) (1988), we held that a character witness could testify only to the general reputation of the defendant in the community and was not permitted to give his personal opinions as to the defendant's character. Mr. Johnson's testimony did not rise to character evidence. He only gave his opinion about his wife; he did not put into evidence her reputation in the community.

he appellant testified extensively before the jury and denied committing the murder. She did not rely on a character defense. Character is not put in issue within the meaning of OCGA 24-9-20 (b) by inadvertent statements regarding defendant's good conduct. Jones, supra at 758. Character should be placed in evidence as an affirmative defense. We affirm the trial court's decision in refusing to charge the jury on character.

5. We need not address any other issues raised in this appeal as they do not constitute error.

Cox, Jr., for appellee.

Notes:

1. The child's death occurred on February 21, 1982. The Clayton County jury returned its sentencing verdict on May 5, 1990. A motion for new trial was denied on December 17, 1990. Notice of appeal was filed December 20, 1990, and the case was docketed February 7, 1991. The case was orally argued April 15, 1991.

2. Three other children ages one-and-a-half years, two years, and three months, died from 1977 to 1981. The causes of death were listed on the death certificates as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, seizure disorder, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.



Martha Ann Johnson

 

 

 
 
 
 
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